Broadway Review: "Carousel"

Broadway Review: "Carousel"

The beloved Rogers and Hammerstein “Carousel” has not often been revived on the Broadway stage since it first opened to critical acclaim in 1945, so this third incarnation, after a long hiatus since the highly successful production at Lincoln Center in 1994, will be welcomed by audiences who savor the familiar lavish score. Theater aficionados will be delighted by the superb vocals that illuminate such favorites as “If I Loved You,” “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over,” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” along with the new sumptuous orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. Although the score is still heralded as one of the best among the classic musicals of its era, the book is quite complex and does not withstand the test of time.

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Broadway Review: Valor Rules Supreme in “Three Tall Women”

Broadway Review: Valor Rules Supreme in “Three Tall Women”

What if the seven “characters” in Jacques the melancholy’s monologue in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” could “meet” and share with one another the experiences they had in their particular “stage of life?” What if “the lean and slipper'd pantaloon” could let the “soldier” know how his life would change, or if both could warn the “infant” of the pitfalls of adolescence and adulthood? And then what if “second childishness and mere oblivion; sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything” could communicate to all his “stages” the importance of humor and perspective? The protagonist in “Three Tall Women,” currently running at the John Golden Theatre, manages that achievement with grace and charming caprice.

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Broadway Review: “Children of A Lesser God”

Broadway Review: “Children of A Lesser God”

The current Broadway revival of the groundbreaking play “Children of a Lesser God,” the first since it opened thirty-eight years ago to win the Tony award for best play, does not seem to have the emotional impact as the original. Playwright Mark Medoff has penned the love story of James Leeds, a speech therapist at a school for the deaf, and Sarah Norman, deaf since birth, who is not a student but works as a custodian at the school. The technique used to present the play is intriguing, since the actor portraying James speaks his dialogue and repeats Sarah’s words as she signs her responses, speaking for both characters. This is certainly an enormous task, and although an ingenious concept, it does lend itself to complications in relating emotional content and depth of character.

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Broadway Review: "Mean Girls"

Broadway Review: "Mean Girls"

The new Broadway musical “Mean Girls,” based on the 2004 hit movie, is sure to secure a home on the Great White Way for some time to come, as it tickles the fancy of a new generation of young woman who might be liberated by the recent movements of empowerment and anti-bullying. It is certainly a crowd pleaser and whether you are a fan of the movie, you will enjoy the flashy, energetic production which aims to please form start to finish. The book by Tina Fey remains close to the screenplay, repeating some of the same popular quips and smart wit while also adding new material to update and take full advantage of current social and political events.

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Broadway Review: “Escape to Margaritaville”

Broadway Review: “Escape to Margaritaville”

Russia, Mueller, Syria, War, The Wall, Elections, Stormy, Stock Market, Tax Cuts, Scandal, Tariffs, DACA, Immigration and Tweets, are a few current headlines monopolizing the news, infecting and affecting our everyday lives. How can we avoid the negative socio-political environment and get away from it all? The answer may be easier and closer than you think. “Escape to Margaritaville” may just be the ticket to remedy the effects of the constant cynical behavioral bombs that seem to be dropped on us every day by those lofty politicians. Arrive early to take your seat, sip on a frozen Margarita from the bar to begin your attitude adjustment, then just slip away for two and a half hours to the carefree island of laid-back music composed by Jimmy Buffett and brought to you by a cast of vocal powerhouses. If you are looking for intellectual stimulation you are in the wrong place for this is a journey filled with senseless situations, silly dialogue and storybook romance, all connected by the lyrics that serve this perpetual beach party. To put it simply, it writes a new amendment, the “Freedom of Fun.”

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Broadway Review: “John Lithgow: Stories By Heart”

Broadway Review: “John Lithgow: Stories By Heart”

“Stories By Heart” is not just the reading of two somewhat obscure short stories. Mr. Lithgow shares with the audience, “I’m also going to tell you some stories about these stories. I’m going to tell you why these two particular stories are important to me, how they connect to my life, and how, over the years, they have helped turn me into a storyteller. /And along the way, I intend to do a little offhand philosophizing about storytelling itself.”

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Broadway Review: "The Children"

Broadway Review: "The Children"

The success of “The Children,” currently playing at Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, is primarily the result of playwright Lucy Kirkwood’s effective and judicious use of tropes, particularly the extended metaphor of the nuclear “disaster” that has displaced Hazel (played with an unresolved anger tempered with pragmatism by Deborah Findlay) and her husband Robin (played with an openness that conceals deep secrets by Ron Cook) from their dairy farm (too close to the power plant for comfort).

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Broadway Review: “Meteor Shower”

Broadway Review: “Meteor Shower”

Steve Martin has titled his new play “Meteor Shower.” Currently running at the Belasco Theatre, the comedy is as broad as the night sky above and filled with just as many stars and enlists the audience members to listen to and watch the actors on stage as they await occasional bursts of comedy that handily counterpoint the intermittent falling stars that stream across the panorama

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Broadway Review: “M. Butterfly”

David Roberts

  • OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic / Outer Critics Circle

“M. Butterfly,” the stunning albeit straightforward play about fantasy, deception, espionage, and betrayal seems to have lost its way at the Cort Theatre. Whether this results from David Henry Hwang’s revisions and updates or from something inherent in the production itself is uncertain. This latest iteration focuses on Song Liling’s (Jin Ha) sexual status rather than on French diplomat Rene Galimand’s (Clive Owen) obsessive fantasy driven by his insatiable xenophobia. Notice was given this week that the play would close prematurely on December 17, 2017. What happened to Julie Taymor’s staging of the endearing drama?

First, what did work for this production is the casting of Jin Ha as Song Liling and Clive Owen as Rene Gallimand. Both actors explored the many levels of their complex characters which resulted in powerful, endearing, authentic, and believable performances. Mr. Owen portrays the obsessive Rene with panache and precision and manages to counterpoint the character’s naivete with a passionate need to be in control. Seemingly unaware of Song Liling’s sexual status and political connections, Rene still believes he is secure in his employment and able to dismiss his commitment to his wife.

Jin Ha portrays the elusive Chinese opera star Song Liling with a compelling gravitas that transcends all conversations about the conventions of human sexuality. Mr. Ha’s character is firmly entrenched in the realm of fantasy and the actor skillfully and subtly entraps Rene into that fantasy – so pervasively that Rene cannot follow through on his demands for Song Liling to undress to confirm his growing suspicions about her true status. Rene’s delusion obfuscates rather than clarifies his understanding of the precarious position he is in politically and professionally.

“M. Butterfly” is a fantasia that rattles the gates of reality and questions all preconceived ideas about fidelity, fealty, and the fragility of the human psyche. Questioned also is the understanding of human sexuality. The critical questions about, for example, whether Jin Ha successfully plays a woman belies an underbelly of stereotypes and assumptions that raises rich and enduring questions. What does a man look like? What does a woman look like? What does it mean to even raise these questions? What defines ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine?’ What does it mean to dress like a man or to dress like a woman?

Jin Ha’s performance is not only compelling, as noted earlier, it is also profoundly convincing. Mr. Ha manages to blur the boundaries between what is perceived to be real and what is perceived to be fiction. His portrayal of the complex opera star is the hallucination Rene needs to survive in a world too encumbered by reality. Together with Mr. Owen, the actors elucidate the Yin and the Yang of universal truths.

Working against the performances, unfortunately, is Paul Steinberg’s cumbersome and oddly unimaginative set. The constant movement of stage hands (and actors) pushing, pulling, and spinning panels around the stage distracts from the needed grounding of the plots and subplots driven by the conflicts of the characters so clearly defined by playwright David Henry Hwang. It is lamentable that “M. Butterfly” is closing early; however, choices made by the creative team are crucial to the success of any production. Some choices in this instance were less than commendable.

 

M. BUTTERFLY

The cast of “M. Butterfly” includes Clea Alsip, Murray Bartlett, Michael Countryman, Celeste Den, Jess Fry, Enid Graham, Jin Ha, Thomas Michael Hammond, Cole Horibe, Jason Ignacio, Kristen Faith Oei, Clive Owen, Erica Sweany, John Leonard Thompson, and Erica Wong. 

The creative team for “M. Butterfly” includes Original Music by Winner Elliot Goldenthal, Choreography by Ma Cong, Scenic Design by Paul Steinberg, Costume Design by Constance Hoffman, Lighting Design by Donald Holder, Sound Design by Will Pickens. Wig and Hair Design by Dave Bova, and Makeup Design by Judy Chin. Production photos by Matthew Murphy.

Tickets are available at www.MButterflyBroadway.com or www.Telecharge.com (212.239.6200). 

Tickets for “M. Butterfly” range from $39.00 - $149.00. Premium tickets range from $199.00 - $227.00. For group tickets and more information, including performance schedule, please visit www.MButterflyBroadway.com. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Photo: Clive Owen and Jin Ha in “M. Butterfly.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.

Broadway Review: 'SpongeBob SquarePants'

Joseph Verlezza

Walking into the Palace Theater to view the new musical extravaganza “SpongeBob SquarePants,” your senses are attacked by a barrage of Crayola colors, shimmering tinsel, happy music and an array of ornamental objects that appear as though Pee Wee Herman went overboard at Party City, shopping for a big beach bash. As you scrutinize the multifarious audience, there is a continuous inspection or marveling at the décor, the obligatory taking of selfies and the murmur of anticipation of what awaits when the performance begins. This group of theatergoers seem to be in familiar territory and has expectations that in part have already been satisfied. The show begins and as the lead character (a limber and enthusiastic Ethan Slater) appears crossing the stage with a sprightly, fluid strut, in a yellow shirt, checkered pants, suspenders and a red tie, a tiny voice from the child behind me exclaims, “that’s not SpongeBob.” Now what?

Not to worry since there are enough neon colors, abstract shapes, flamboyant costumes and elaborate sets by David Zinn, with frantic movements and pedestrian choreography by Christopher Gattelli, to induce a distraction, so elements of plot and depth of characters become paltry. The collection of songwriters assembled, not limited to but including such names as John Legend, Cyndi Lauper, Sara Bareilles and Lady Antebellum assures a diverse conglomeration of styles from rap to gospel to pop to Broadway. The “save the world” plot that is chock full of morals and optimism is simple and easy to follow, with musical numbers that attempt to move the action forward with little success, but provide actors the opportunity to showcase their vocal ability in big Broadway belt style. Venturing away from the typical Broadway musical formula (sans love interest) it is difficult to describe what this production is trying to accomplish, (albeit entertaining), besides selling an enormous amount of marketing merchandise at the large concession area in the lobby.

The cast is fully competent in execution and seems to be enjoying themselves without being bogged down with character development, or a complicated book accredited to Kyle Jarrow. It is light and fluffy entertainment seen through a psychedelic kaleidoscope of ever-changing shapes and colors that may visually satisfy but lacks that mystical, magical artistic aura that suspends you in disbelief. Ethan Slater produces a limber, buoyant, animated, sanguine SpongeBob, with a fine voice (sometimes in cartoon character) to compliment his character. Gavin Lee is delicious and delirious as Squidward Q. Tentacles, complete with four legs and a lavish, show stopping tap number in the second act. Danny Skinner is admirable as BFF, Patrick Star (a wannabe STARfish). The squirrel Sandy Cheeks is inhabited by the delightful Lilli Cooper with a sense of intelligence. Wesley Taylor portrays a villainous Sheldon Plankton with a slimy complexion. Eugene Krabs is depicted with sharp wit and harmless authority (complete with big red boxing gloves) by Brian Ray Norris.

Tina Landau has created an inventive production that provides enough amusement and razzle dazzle to satisfy audiences that are familiar with this famed Nickelodeon character and his cohorts but will not in any fashion keep the interest of serious theatergoers. It is a vibrant spectacle that sparkles but does not shine.    

  

SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS

The “SpongeBob SquarePants” cast includes Ethan Slater as SpongeBob SquarePants, Gavin Lee as Squidward Q. Tentacles, Lilli Cooper as Sandy Cheeks, Brian Ray Norris as Eugene Krabs, Danny Skinner as Patrick Star and Wesley Taylor as Sheldon Plankton. The ensemble includes Alex Gibson, Gaelen Gilliland, Juliane Godfrey, Kyle Matthew Hamilton, Curtis Holbrook, Stephanie Hsu, Jesse JP Johnson, L’ogan J’ones, Jai’len Christine Li Josey, Kelvin Moon Loh, Lauralyn McClelland, Vasthy Mompoint, Oneika Phillips, Jon Rua, JC Schuster, Abby C. Smith, Robert Taylor Jr., Allan Washington, Brynn Williams, Matt Wood and Tom Kenny as the French Narrator.

The design team includes scenic and costume design by David Zinn, lighting design by Kevin Adams, projection design by Peter Nigrini, sound design by Walter Trarbach, hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe and casting by Telsey + Company/Patrick Goodwin, CSA. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

For more information on “SpongeBob SquarePants,” visit www.SpongeBobBroadway.com. Tickets are available online via Ticketmaster.com, by calling 877-250-2929 or at The Palace Theatre box office (1564 Broadway - Broadway at 47th Street). Ticket prices range from $49.00 to $159.00. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes

Photo: Ethan Slater and the Cast of “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Credit: Joan Marcus.

Broadway Review: “The Parisian Woman”

David Roberts

  • OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic / Outer Critics Circle

Beau Willimon is perhaps best known for creating the successful Netflix original series “House of Cards” which is completing its final season. Much of what made the series so savvy was the way the writers exposed the chicanery and dishonesty of politics without “naming names.” The episodes wisely left making connections to current events to the viewers. Inspired by Henry François Becque’s 1885 play “La Parisienne,” Mr. Willimon’s “The Parisian Woman,” currently running at the Hudson Theatre, overshadows its important themes of love, trust, and the dynamics of relationships with clichés about Number 45 and the shenanigans in the current West Wing.

Successful tax attorney Tom (Josh Lucas), wanting “to make a difference,” is in the running for nomination to a Federal judgeship and his wife Chloe (Uma Thurman) wants to help him get the job despite her affairs with the uber-jealous Peter (Marton Csokas) and a recent female graduate of Harvard Law (the play’s only “surprise”). Chloe’s future with Tom is uncertain. He knows of Chloe’s flirtations and accepts them as part of their “agreement.” But his wife’s penchant for other lovers has grown tiresome and has affected their marriage. After all, Chloe affirms, “You can pretend to love anything for fifteen minutes.” This is a reference to Tom pretending to like port at Jeanette’s (Blair Brown) bash, but proves to be a foreshadowing of things to come. As is Chloe’s interest in Jeanette’s daughter Rebecca (Phillipa Soo) who also attends the party. This is the flimsy plot driven by uninteresting characters with mostly mundane conflicts.

It seems no one knows what do with Beau Willimon’s script: Pam MacKinnon directs it like a daytime television drama and the actors decide to follow her lead and deliver stilted performances that rarely rise above the mediocre. Only Josh Lucas and Blair Brown seem to want to explore the deeper levels of their characters Tom and Jeanette respectively, but Ms. MacKinnon’s lugubrious pacing often gets in the way of the farcical tone that is at the heart of the script. What ought to be light and terribly funny becomes ponderous and overwrought leaving all attempts at exploring the comedy beneath the high drama falling flat.

Derek McLane’s set is exquisite with stunning detail. Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting is delicate and appropriate. Jane Greenwood’s costumes are serviceable but too often oddly ill-fitting which is quite unusual for the iconic designer. The massive drop-down “screen” with Darrel Maloney’s projections seems out of place and simply provides a needless opportunity for the set changes. Actors appearing in “doorways” glancing at one another and the audience then strutting off is odd indeed.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Willimon’s important rich and enduring questions get lost in his muddled script. What is truth? Is truth important? Is telling the truth important? Is there a difference between truth and reality? What is that difference? Grappling with questions like these can be redemptive, especially at times when multiple distractions attempt to cloud verity and validity. “The Parisian” Woman” avoids addressing the questions it raises instead opting for rehashing the political news of the day with disappointing results.

 

THE PARISIAN WOMAN

“The Parisian Woman” stars Josh Lucas, Blair Brown, Marton Csokas, Phillipa Soo, and Uma Thurman.

The creative team for “The Parisian Woman” Derek McLane (scenic design), Jane Greenwood (costume design), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), Darrel Maloney (projections), and Broken Chord (sound design and original composition). Hair Design is by Tom Watson and Make-up Design is by Tommy Kurzman. Casting is by Telsey + Company, Will Cantler CSA. Production photos by Matthew Murphy.

“The Parisian Woman” runs for a limited engagement at the Hudson Theatre (141 West 44th Street). Tickets are now available through www.thehudsonbroadway.com or (855) 801-5876. For further information, including the performance schedule, visit http://parisianwomanbroadway.com/. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo (L-R): Uma Thurman as “Chloe,” Josh Lucas as “Tom,” and Marton Csokas as “Peter.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.

Broadway Review: 'Once on this Island'

Joseph Verlezza

“Once On this Island” was certainly an enchanting and memorable visit twenty-seven years ago and that may in fact cloud the opinions expressed when recently returning to this island and commenting on what had changed. Some audience members may have experienced finding an unknown out of the way place that had a simple and charming ambiance, with friendly locals that quickly felt like family, as they shared their history and stories. Then you return to that place many years later finding glitzy hotels, hundreds of tourists, silly souvenir shops and inhabitants that spout the history and stories but never really lived them. That is what came to mind while viewing the current incarnation of this wonderful musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. The captivating aura that cast a magical spell fueling the imagination of a little girl as she listens to the folklore of the island is replaced by a big Broadway spectacle that is plagued with excess and self-indulgence.

The play opens with the inhabitants of the island cleaning up after a major storm has devastated the area. Then the folkloric story begins to be told to a little girl (the natural and innocent Emerson Davis). A very long time ago a catastrophic storm destroyed the island and in the aftermath, as two older islanders, (portrayed by the remarkable Phillip Boykin and Kenita R. Miller), were wandering through the debris, they discovered a little girl, Ti Moune, sitting high up in a tree. They became her adoptive parents. As Ti Moune grows, (an enthusiastic Hailey Kilgore) she falls in love with the boy Daniel (infused with energy by Isaac Powell) from a wealthy family on the French side of the island after she sees his car crash. She heals him after making a deal with Papa Ge, the god of death (a menacing and sultry Merle Dandrige) to spare him in exchange for her life. After a short time together, she is rejected by the wealthy family as Daniel has an arranged marriage. She cannot live without her love and Death takes her as she walks into the sea.

It is a beautiful story of young love that is laced with all the right elements for teaching, touching on topics of social rejection, racism, caste, ethics, survival, and rebirth. One drawback of this production is that at times the story is lost. Obscured by overwrought staging and a superfluous set that includes a sand-filled playing area, the sea (yes, water that extends offstage), the back half of a semi-truck, colorful laundry hanging everywhere, a live goat (complete with a diaper) and chickens. The tree that flourishes in the final scene representing a rebirth, the inner beauty of Ti Moune and the resounding spirit of the island is a telephone pole that is raised up, I imagine representing restored power.

Vocally the cast is a powerhouse but over-amplified and at times disconnected. A highlight of the evening is the song “Ti Moune” delivered with sensitivity and tenderness by Mr. Boykin and Ms. Miller who provide stable characters, honestly connected throughout the story. It is worth the wait to hear Mr. Powell sensitively sing “Some Girls” with a pure tonal quality expressing a sensible vulnerability. It would be remiss not to mention the crowd pleasers, Hailey Kilgore’s “Waiting for Life” and Alex Newell’s big belt “Mama Will Provide.” 

Even with all its distraction and pitfalls, for those who have never visited this island before, it will be a marvelous vacation. There would be no reason to revive a musical unless it is seen in a different perspective with new and inventive ideas and visions. This current production under the direction of Michael Arden delivers a big, lavish Broadway musical with show-stopping numbers, which are sure to please the current stream of theatergoers.
 
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND

“Once On This Island” features Lea Salonga, Alex Newell, Merle Dandridge, Quentin Earl Darrington, and Hailey Kilgore. The cast also includes Phillip Boykin, Darlesia Cearcy, Rodrick Covington, Emerson Davis, Alysha Deslorieux, Tyler Hardwick, Cassondra James, David Jennings, Grasan Kingsberry, Loren Lott, Kenita R. Miller, Isaac Powell, T. Oliver Reid, Aurelia Williams, and.

The creative team for “Once On This Island” includes director Michel Arden, Lynn Ahrens (bookwriter and lyricist), Stephen Flaherty (music), Camille A. Brown (choreographer), Michael Starobin and AnnMarie Milazzo (orchestrators), Dane Laffrey (Scenic Design), Clint Ramos (Costume Design), Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (Lighting Designers), Peter Hylenski (Sound Designer), John Bertles/Bash The Trash (Unusual Instruments), Cookie Jordan (Hair/Wig & Makeup Designer), Chris Fenwick (Music Supervisor), and Telsey + Co / Craig Burns, CSA (Casting). Alvin Hough, Jr. is the music director. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

For tickets for “Once On This Island” at The Circle in the Square Theatre (235 West 50th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue) and the performance schedule, visit http://www.onceonthisisland.com/. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: (L – R): Mia Mei Williamson, Alex Newell, Hailey Kilgore, and the cast of “Once On This Island.” Credit: Joan Marcus.

 

Broadway Review: “Time and the Conways”

David Roberts

  • OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic

“No, Time's only a kind of dream, Kay. If it wasn't, it would have to destroy everything—the whole universe—and then remake it again every tenth of a second. But Time doesn't destroy anything. It merely moves us on—in this life—from one peephole to the next.” – Alan to Kay

Rebecca Taichman’s staging of “Time and the Conways,” currently running at the American Airlines Theatre, is a retelling of the important 1937 play that transforms Priestley’s important discussions about the relevance and the parameters of time, the permanence of war, and the vicissitudes of the nuclear and extended family from an intellectual exercise to a deeply spiritual quest that raises several deep, rich, and enduring questions.

What happens to a nation and its citizens during the time following the War to End All Wars and now on the brink of the war they never expected? What happens to the members of a dysfunctional family over time? Does the pain borne of collusion dissipate or cumulate? Why does time not somehow eradicate the abuse of women and permanently disarm the abuse of women by men? Is time beneficent or inherently maleficent?

These questions – and several others – arise at the twenty-first birthday celebration for Kay Conway (played with a fragility often masked by a delicate bravado by Charlotte Parry) held at the Conway residence in Newlingham, England in 1919 amidst the “rebuilding a shattered world” post-World War I. Though she professes not to be “used to happiness,” Mrs. Conway urges the family, “Let's all be cosy together and happy again, shall we?” Cosiness and happiness seem to elude the Conways despite the end of the war and the return of Robin Conway (played with a tender mixture of brokenness and irascibility by Matthew James Thomas) from the battlefield. Mrs. Conway’s feeling that “we all can be happy again, now that the horrible war's all over and people are sensible again” is crushed under the weight of dysfunction and collusion and bruised by disillusionment and disappointment.

The Conway matriarch (played with an admixture of coyness and a deplorable supremacy by Elizabeth McGovern) is an oddly static character: she remains possessive, delusional, and remorseless throughout the play. Time is not kind to Mrs. Conway: her husband and a daughter die and she loses most of her husband’s estate through sheer mismanagement. “Time and the Conways” carefully unmasks how Mrs. Conway’s character dismantles the health and resilience of her family and her own fragility.

When, at her bidding, the family reconvenes in 1937, Robin has abandoned his wife Joan (played with a hopefulness dashed by deep sorrow by Cara Ricketts) and his children; Madge (played with  a steely resolve borne through disaffection by Brooke Bloom) disowns her mother; Hazel (played with a spirit broken by abuse by Anna Camp) is married to the “vulgar little bully” Ernest Beevers (played with a deeply deplorable psyche by Steven Boyer) and her friend and lawyer Gerald Thornton (played throughout by a charming tenderness by Alfredo Narcisco) discloses that Mrs. Conway is all but bankrupt. Kay fears there is “a great devil in the universe, and we call it Time.”

Neil Patel’s set supports Rebecca Taichman’s inventive staging of “Time and the Conways” by creating two separate sets for the changes in time (1919 to 1937 and back to 1919) instead of the original convention of changing the furniture and adding a wireless to the 1919 set. With one translucent set in front of the other, the audience “sees” into the past and Alan’s construct of time transcends time. This adds a welcomed magical realism to J. B. Priestley’s already metaphysical themes. Carol Conway (played with the ebullience of adolescence and the wisdom of old age by Anna Baryshnikov) bridges time and space with her presence on stage throughout the two acts. Her performance is chilling.

“Time and the Conways” is a sensitive and courageous exploration of how time (the fourth dimension) teases the fifth dimension and the possibility of alternate universes where, as Alan (played with a remarkable humility and grace by Gabriel Ebert) convinces Kay, “Time's only a kind of dream, Kay. If it wasn't, it would have to destroy everything—the whole universe—and then remake it again every tenth of a second. But Time doesn't destroy anything. It merely moves us on—in this life—from one peephole to the next.”

 

TIME AND THE CONWAYS

“Time and the Conways” stars Elizabeth McGovern as “Mrs. Conway,” Steven Boyer as “Ernest,” Anna Camp as “Hazel,” Gabriel Ebert as “Alan,” Charlotte Parry as “Kay,” and Matthew James Thomas as “Robin,” with Anna Baryshnikov as “Carol,” Brooke Bloom as “Madge,” Alfredo Narciso as “Gerald,” and Cara Ricketts as “Joan.”

The creative team includes Neil Patel (Set Design), Paloma Young (Costume Design), Christopher Akerlind (Lighting Design) and Matt Hubbs (Sound Design). Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.

“Time and the Conways” plays Tuesday through Saturday evening at 8:00 p.m. with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m. Tickets for are available by calling 212.719.1300, online at www.roundabouttheatre.org, and in person at any Roundabout box office: American Airlines Theatre Box office (227 West 42nd Street); The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (111 W 46th Street) and Studio 54 (254 West 54th Street). Ticket prices range from $39.00-$149.00. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: Anna Baryshnikov, Charlotte Parry, Matthew James Thomas, and Anna Camp. Credit: Jeremy Daniel.

BroadwayHD Review: 'Present Laughter'

Noah Golden

  • OnStage Associate Connecticut Critic

There are a few good reasons to watch the Broadway revival of “Present Laughter,” which has since closed in New York but lives on through a recording streaming on BroadwayHD. There’s its star Kevin Kline, one of the finest stage actors of our generation, delivering a very funny, physically-adroit and poignant performance. There’s the chance to familiarize yourself with the work of Noël Coward, a towering figure in 20th century drama whom many nowadays, including myself, are mostly unfamiliar with. There’s, of course, the chance to watch a Broadway play from the comfort of your own sofa with a ticket that costs less than a Times Square bottle of water. Those are all valid. But for the directors out there, I can think of an even better reason to watch “Present Laughter” – the pace.

The first of three acts proceeds at such a startling clip that I wouldn’t be surprised if director Moritz Von Stuelpnagel rehearsed his actors with a tickling metronome. It’s wonderful to watch a director with such a keen ear for finding and drawing out percussive rhythm in conversational dialogue. One can doubt the freshness of the material, which was written in 1939, but Von Stuelpnagel has the cast working at such a feverish speed it takes quite a while to notice the laughs are sometimes few and far between.

This theatrical, verbal ping-pong game begins with a pitch-perfect duet between Kline’s Garry Essendine, an aging actor with a flair for off-stage dramatics, and twenty-something aspiring starlet Daphne Stillington. While we’re not quite sure what happened the previous night, Ms. Stillington (played with delicious pep by newcomer Tedra Millan) emerges from the guest bedroom wearing one of Essendine’s trademark dressing gowns. She soon meets the colorful entourage who orbits Essendine’s life. Among them are a grumpy housekeeper (Ellen Harvey), a skittish valet (Matt Bittner) and a put-upon secretary (Kristine Nielsen).

Once the day starts, it becomes clear Ms. Stillington isn’t the only one who wants Mr. Essendine’s attention. A loopy playwright (Bhavesh Patel) comes to call, as does his producer (Peter Francis James), manager (Reg Rogers) and on-again-off-again spouse (Kate Burton). Oh, did I forget to mention the vampy Mrs. Monica Lyppiat (Colby Smulders), who is in possession of a wedding ring and a wandering eye?

Clearly, there’s a lot of characters swirling around in Coward’s farce. Perhaps too many. Even at such a brisk pace, this production – which runs two hours and fifteen minutes – can feel both sluggish and overstuffed. There’s only so much witty banter and door slamming one can take without more consistent jokes or a meatier plot to chew on along the way. Perhaps feeding off the live actor’s energy in person, the second half of “Laughter” would feel more fun and less fatiguing than it does in this televised incarnation.

If certain creaky aspects of the script felt stale, you certainly couldn’t fault this exquisite cast who do their best to sell every joke handed them and then some. Kline is a delight and it’s a treat to watch him return to the comedic roots that made him famous in “A Fish Called Wanda.” His surprisingly complex Garry Essendine is a bundle of ego and insecurities, sophistication and immaturity. He also delivers the best double-take I have ever seen in my 27 years of life, one that had me laughing so loudly I paused the film. (Heads up: it happens an hour and 34 minute in). Smulders, best known to me from “How I Met Your Mother,” perfectly emulates a silent movie seductress and plays excellently off Kline. Millan, Nielsen and Burton are outstanding as well, finding clever moments to embellish their stock roles.

The only misstep here is with Bhavesh Patel who plays writer Roland Maule with all the subtly and realism of a breathing Looney Toons character. You can’t really blame Mr. Patel, who does exhausting but often hilarious work that the audience seemed to love. But the direction makes him into a mix between an over caffeinated child and a shrieking (possibly gay) fanboy, which throws the delicate balance of the play’s tone into an overly cartoonish realm.

At the end of the day, “Present Laughter” strikes me as a fun outing at the theater but I can’t help feel its historical significance outweighs its modern entertainment value. As valiantly as the cast tries, I’m not sure this play holds up among better, more sophisticated door-slamming farces (like “Noises Off”). But for those who value witty exchanges, physical humor and screwball set-ups, there is still a lot of charm in “Present Laughter,” more than enough to recommend it.

“Present Laughter” is now streaming on BroadwayHD and will be aired on PBS November 3.

Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Broadway Review: “1984”

David Roberts

  • OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic

“Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist/Before they're allowed to be free/Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head/And pretend that he just doesn't see/The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind/The answer is blowin' in the wind.” – Bob Dylan, “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1962)

Did the 1947 Paris Peace Treaties at the end of World War II resolve all the conflicts between the Allied and the Axis powers or would Allied countries like the United States and the United Kingdom be perpetually at war with someone else? Once allies – the United States and Russia – are now enemies with Cold War rhetoric between them escalating. And if perpetually at war, how would the new superpowers maintain their control both abroad and at home? Writing in 1948, George Orwell contemplated these and other “post-war” enduring questions and proffered dire warnings about his dystopian vision of the future.

These warnings are reissued in Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’ adaptation of Orwell’s 1949 novel “1984” currently running at the Hudson Theatre.  The “super state” Oceania is a province of Airstrip One (the former Great Britain) where the thoughts and actions of its citizens are monitored constantly through a macabre system of surveillance and mind control overseen by “Thought Police” and enforced by an equally grisly “Ministries” all accountable to and designed by “Big Brother” who is always watching. “English Socialism” is the name of the regime and unshakable tyranny is its method of durability.

Winston Smith (played with an intense conviction tempered with the pain of reality by Tom Sturridge) works for the Ministry of Truth and is responsible for maintaining the “party line” by rewriting history to match the regime’s propaganda, including Oceania’s perpetual War with Eurasia (or Eastasia depending on the state’s whim). Winston’s work creates an interest in “real history” and the facts about the past. This interest results in doubt and eventual mistrust of the government and Winston’s desire to overthrow Big Brother. “1984” is Winston’s story of opposition, arrest, punishment, and reclamation. Winston teams up with Julia (played with a charming deceptiveness and a disarming inscrutability by Olivia Wilde). Both trust and are eventually betrayed by O’Brien (played with an eerie psychotic detachment by Reed Birney) and are coerced into betraying each other.

The members of the cast of “1984” deliver soul-splitting performances that appear to defy the limitations of their craft. They deftly maintain the fragile suspension of disbelief while escorting the audience through a cavern of metacognition and catharsis. They keep the audience in a heightened level of awareness and involvement that culminates in the scene in the Ministry of Love’s Room 101 that nearly shatters not only the resolve of the protagonist but also the emotional tolerance of the viewers.

Replacing Orwell’s rich diction and syntax is Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s staging of the adaptation. The time frame of the novel has also been compressed – everything seems to happen within a day as opposed to weeks and months.  This compression of time heightens the urgency of Orwell’s warning and exacerbates the need for action. Chloe Lamford’s diatonic scenic and costume design and Natasha Chivers’s stark lighting design counterpoint perfectly this urgency.

What happens when current events have surpassed dystopian constructs? What happens when the imagined has become reality? What happens when fictional totalitarianism begins to mirror non-fictional 2017 politics? “1984” continues to raise these and other rich and enduring questions.

 

1984

The cast of “1984” includes Reed Birney (O’Brien), Wayne Duvall (Parsons), Carl Hendrick Louis (Martin), Nick Mills (Syme), Michael Potts (Charrington), Cara Seymour (Mrs. Parsons), Tom Sturridge Winston), and Olivia Wilde (Julia).

The design team for “1984” includes Chloe Lamford (Scenic and Costume Design), Natasha Chivers (Lighting Design), Tom Gibbons (Sound Design), and Tim Reid (Video Design).  Production photos by Julieta Cervantes.

“1984” is playing at the Hudson Theatre (141 West 44th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues). For complete information on schedule of performances and ticketing, please visit http://www.revisedtruth.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes without intermission. Please be advised there is no readmission to the theatre if audience members leave at any time during the performance.

Photo: Tom Sturridge and Reed Birney in Broadway’s “1984.” Credit: Julieta Cervantes.

Broadway Review: “Prince of Broadway”

David Roberts

  • OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic

Some audience members attending the engaging “Prince of Broadway,” currently running at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, might find themselves caught between the devil and the deep blue sea: either they are unforgiving musical theatre aficionados and find themselves constantly comparing the iconic musical numbers with the original Broadway production of the shows from which they come, or they have little knowledge of musical theatre and scratch their heads wondering what the context of the musical numbers might be? For the rest of the audience – the majority of those attending the performance I attended – this dilemma is diminished but not irrelevant and raises the question, “Is Hal Prince anywhere backstage where his majestic career began?”

Not unlike the Kennedy Center Honors, “Prince of Broadway” is a tribute to a worthy honoree with a history of “life achievements” presented live and on video. Here the life achievements are songs from sixteen Broadway musicals directed by Prince, each performed by one or more of nine veteran Broadway entertainers and each song delivered on an impressive set. The song or songs from one show move rapidly to the next with Beowulf Boritt’s sets changing seamlessly. William Ivey Long’s costumes create the perfect mnemonic palette that transports the viewer to the richness of the shows’ histories. Howell Binkley’s lighting conspires with sets and costumes to successfully counterpoint with the performances. This effort, though Herculean, leaves the audience wanting more.

The ‘more’ is the honoree himself. Mr. Prince has a rich past (and present) and the “Transition” monologues by the actors portraying Prince and sharing what amount to mere snippets about the director’s life and work are simply not enough exposition to sate the palate of the audience member. It might have been more beneficial, for example, if each actor shared her or his memories about the musical or how the musical might have influenced their career.

That said, what “Prince of Broadway” does provide is two and a half hours of blissful entertainment, showcasing Hal Prince’s iconic directorial career and the music of at least thirty-six of Broadway’s best composers, lyricists, and book writers. There are notable highlights in the tribute. “Tonight” from “West Side Story” with Tony Yazbeck as Tony and Kaley Ann Voorhees as Maria are among those. Ms. Voorhees is one of the best Marias ever to play that role. The entire cast is together for “Beautiful Girls,” Waiting for the Girls Upstairs,” and The Right Girl” from “Follies.” The two “older couples” are engaging and the actors – Emily Skinner (Phyllis), Karen Ziemba (Sally), Tony Yazbeck (Buddy), and Chuck Cooper (Ben) – deliver authentic performances that capture the unique traits of each character with sheer grace. Tony Yazbeck’s extended tap routine is a masterful and energetic performance – he could have danced all night and the audience would still have wanted more. Kudos to Mr. Yazbeck and choreographer Susan Stroman.

Additional highlights are Emily Skinner’s transcendent “Send in the Clowns” (“A Little Night Music”) and “Ladies Who Lunch” (“Company”) and Michael Xavier and Kaley Ann Voorhees’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” and “The Music of the Night.” Brandon Uranowitz (George) and Bryonha Marie Parham (Amalia) bring pathos and ethos to “Tonight at Eight” and “Will He Love Me” from “She Loves Me.” Janet Dacal (Sydney) and Michael Xavier (Clark Kent)breeze through “You’ve Got Possibilities” with convincing charm and wit from the lesser known “It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane … It’s Superman.”

“Prince of Broadway” is a rich recounting of the works of director Hal Prince. Perhaps you will not know more about him after the musical or garner more knowledge about the shows represented; however, the performances will surely pique your interest and introduce or re-introduce you to some of the best music to have played on the Great White Way.

 

PRINCE OF BROADWAY

The cast of “Prince of Broadway” features Chuck Cooper, Janet Dacal, Bryonha Marie Parham, Emily Skinner, Brandon Uranowitz, Kaley Ann Voorhees, Michael Xavier, Tony Yazbeck, and Karen Ziemba.

The creative team for “Prince of Broadway” features Beowulf Boritt (scenic and projection design), William Ivey Long (costume design), Howell Binkley (lighting design), Jon Weston (sound design), Paul Huntley (wig design), Angelina Avallone (makeup design), Fred Lassen (music direction), Tara Rubin (casting), and Jeffrey Seller (creative consultant). Production photos by Michael Murphy.

For the performance schedule, please visit http://princeofbway.com/. Tickets are available at Telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200, or by visiting The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Box Office at 261 West 47th Street. Ticket prices are $89-$179. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes including an intermission.

Photo (L to R): Karen Ziemba, Emily Skinner, Chuck Cooper, and Tony Yazbeck. Credit: Matthew Murphy.

Broadway Review: “The Terms of My Surrender

David Roberts

Michael Moore is without doubt an iconic figure. Mr. Moore’s “The Terms of My Surrender,” currently playing a limited engagement at the Belacso Theatre, dispels any doubt about his archetypal status. Near the end of the lengthy two-hour and twenty-five-minute monologue (with a guest and some needless dancing and questionable – though pleasurable – stripping male “police officers”), Michael Moore delivers what amounts to his “topic sentence.” “My terms of surrender are I cannot live in America while Donald Trump is President.”

Listening to Michael Moore suggest “How We Got Here” and eleven other survival or recovery steps is gratifying and energizing. It would be better to hear more of Mr. Moore’s engaging stories with less interruption. There is no need for hearing the story about Harper-Collins refusing (initially) to publish his 2001 “Stupid White Men” and then listening to the same story told by his guest who was unwittingly responsible for getting the publisher to back down. A retired Englewood, NJ librarian, the guest spent an extended period telling the audience about the importance of libraries and the danger of defunding under the Trump budget. The defunding is important and part of Moore’s anti-Trump rant. However, it does not take almost a half-hour to make that important point. Perhaps director Michael Mayer can work with Moore to contain the monologue and guest to the announced two-hour run time.

In that time, more stories like the following could have been shared: at 17, after his father refused to fill out an application for membership in the local Elks Lodge because the Lodge was for “whites only,” Moore managed to force the Elks to change their membership policy; a year later, he won a seat on his local school board and spearheaded the firing of the tyrannical principle and vice-principal at his high school; and in November 1984, he and a friend managed to confront Ronald Reagan at the Bitburg Military Cemetery where Nazi-SS soldiers were buried. The emotional story of the contaminated water in Flint, Michigan came at the end of the “overlong” performance and did not have the desired effect for change.

In short, the effect of Michael Moore’s monologue is a significant contribution to the discussion about what Americans can and should do to in the current political upheaval since Donald Trump’s “win.” It is important, for example to know that “Donald Trump has outsmarted us all” and “We need to sober up” if any meaningful resistance is to occur. If anything could strengthen Michael Moore’s persuasive monologue, it would be more rhetorical logos and ethos. How do his important stories relate directly to the “outsmarting” of America by the current president? And how do his compelling stories connect to the culture of America and the audience?

Michael Moore’s “The Terms of My Surrender” is a call to action, a call to cease all somnambulant behavior, a call to action while there is still time. Is there a way for Mr. Moore and for America to sustain its terms of surrender?

 

THE TERMS OF MY SURRENDER

The cast of “The Terms of My Surrender” incudes Michael Moore, Kylie Shea Lewallen, Vince Oddo, and Nicholas Cunningham.

The design team for The Terms of My Surrender includes a set by David Rockwell, lighting design by Kevin Adams, sound design by Brian Ronan, costumes by Jeff Mahshie, video and projection designs by Andrew Lazarow and movement direction by Noah Racey. 101 Productions serves as Executive Producer. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Tickets for “The Terms of My Surrender” at the Belasco Theatre (111 West 44th Street) are $29.00 - $149.00 and are available at Telecharge.com or by calling (212) 239-6200. Regular performances are Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday -  Friday - Saturday at 8:00 p.m., with 2:00 p.m. matinees on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Running time is 2 hours without intermission.

Photo: Michael Moore in “The Terms of My Surrender.” Credit: Joan Marcus.

Broadway Review: “Groundhog Day” for the female character in musical theater

Asya Danilova

  • OnStage New York Critic

Bottom line: The musical based on the cult 1993 movie, “Groundhog Day”, is a star vehicle for Andy Karl and a graveyard for female representation.       

Repetition is a fruitful means of expression in the theater; hence the media itself is based on repetition. That said, it seems like the Groundhog Day, a beloved 1993 movie, was made for the stage. With the book by Danny Rubin, the writer of the original screenplay, the musical Groundhog Day opened in London in 2016 and made it's way to Broadway this spring. The creative team includes the director Matthew Warchus and composer/lyricist Tim Minchin of Matilda, the musical. 

Andy Karl stars as Phil Connors, a weatherman with a rock-star attitude, who gets stuck in a small Pennsylvanian town while covering the annual appearance of the groundhog, Phil. The unexplained time paradox traps Connors in the same day, February 2nd, which he is doomed to relive over and over again. But you probably know the plot, much of which consists of Phil courting the TV producer, Rita Hanson (Barrett Doss).

If you are craving a rom-com with an arrogant yet charming prince and a feisty princess, read no further and go book your tickets. On top of the love story you will be rewarded with fiery dances by the ensemble dressed in winter attire (by costume designer Rob Howell), featuring caricature residents and visitors of Punxsutawney. Much like Phil, you will learn to love them as the show progresses and with each new loop we find out more about their lives.    

The inventive design creates an atmosphere of a small town becoming the capital of the world for one day. Five turning tables are built into each other, resembling a clock mechanism. Mobile set pieces designed by Rob Howell, provide for dynamic staging. One of the most memorable numbers, the rock ballade “Hope”, uses illusions by Paul Kieve to create a deathly carousel of despair in which we see Phil killing himself again and again only to re-emerge in his personal purgatory.  

The gloomy catalogue of suicides reveals that Connors is not the only one stuck in a repetitive life. So does the number, “Nobody Cares”, where two hillbillies get drunk with a TV celebrity in the bar and then dive recklessly around town. We get to see the panels of a car assembled and disassembled around the three as they jump up and down every railroad tie, running away from two miniature police cars. 

The song opening the second act, “Playing Nancy” is a solo of Phil’s one-night stand, Nancy (Rebecca Faulkenberry), crying about choosing the wrong men all the time. The fake depth to the secondary character is unnecessary and puzzling. Perhaps Nancy was written as a contrast female character to Rita, who also says that she is waiting for a prince (on multiple occasions!) but in comparison to Nancy, is picky and knows what she wants. 

Maybe this is an attempt to create a meta-song referring to life as stage where we all play our parts? "Playing Nancy" seems odd and out of place but at the same time it wonderfully embodies the major issue of Groundhog Day – the outdated and even harmful representation of women. 

If not for the perky Barrett Doss, Rita would be the same “Nancy”, doomed to repeat the patterns of her female predecessors of mass culture, waiting for the perfect prince and suffer through relationships with imperfect men. And all of that is done without any sign of self-irony, without striving for anything other than "#relationshipgoals". Knowing that this musical was written in recent years, even if based on the 90s movie, makes me shiver. 

Happy and reassuring, Groundhog Day buries the rotten core of the outdated message to women to define their life in relation to men. Yes, I understand that the show is not about Rita or Nancy, and we all are here to see charismatic Phil Connors making each of the same Groundhog Days unlike the previous. Andy Karl, with elegance and a hint of irony, shines with on a new plane of his brilliance in every single scenario of his day. But why is his counterpart, Rita, written so flat? It is about time we stop blindly repeating some narrative paths in musical theater when it comes to women, don’t you think?      

“Groundhog Day” currently enjoys its open run in the August Wilson Theatre at 245 West 52nd street. More information and tickets: www.groundhogdaymusical.com